Faleeha Hassan is the author of the new book War and Me: A Memoir. The book was translated from Arabic into English by William Hutchins. Hassan's many other books include A Butterfly's Voice. She is a poet, playwright, teacher, and editor, whose poems have been translated into 21 languages. She was born in Iraq and lives in the United States.
Q: What inspired you to write War and Me, and how was the book's title chosen?
A: It was a dream come true to be able to share my story and have my memoir, War and Me, published. The purpose of writing it was to share my experience with people who do not know the horrors of war and what innocent people face in their everyday lives.
This book is an honest testimony about war – the dangers that I personally faced, as well as the gruelling conditions and terrible tragedies my family, friends, neighbors, and I experienced for years on end.
I was very fortunate to become acquainted with Professor William Hutchins. One day I was discussing my dream to write a memoir, and he told me about a friend named Gabriella, who worked as an editor at Amazon Crossing – a literature in translation press.
Professor William offered to introduce us, and Ms. Gabriella then asked me to send the introduction and the first chapter. She presented my outline to her colleagues, and it was approved for publication! It took me a year to write my story in Arabic language and an additional year for Professor William to create the English translation.
Although the contents of the book are complex, I wanted the title of the book to be simple so it would stick in the minds of readers. And so, War and Me: A Memoir was born.
Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, “While a sobering narrative, Hassan’s intelligence and resilience combine to yield an incredibly powerful look at the ripple effects of warfare. Her poignant tale of survival is one that readers won’t soon forget.” What do you think of that description?
A: This statement seems very true because of what I personally experienced, as well as what the innocent people of Iraq have been subjected to. In wars there are many hidden events that authors must write about so that rulers will wake up and think a thousand times before starting another war.
The events in my book may seem unbelievable to the reader, but in fact the book is a brutally honest reflection of what the Iraqi people have gone through – from wars that extended from 1980 to 1988 to economic embargos that were imposed on Iraq in 1990 and extended to 2003.
I still remember how the Iraqi people suffered from hunger and how many children died as a result of the lack of medicine in hospitals at that time.
Q: What role do you see education playing in your life, and in the book?
A: Education plays an important role in the life of every human being, regardless of whether they come from different social classes. Whether people are poor or extremely rich, they need an education, and this education is what puts them on the right path.
I was a very fortunate girl because my father was keen for his children to complete their education, and he did not differentiate between male and female in this matter. I remember how he and my mother and my grandmother insisted that we complete our studies and obtain final grades in our school. Thank God all of my family members became educated.
In addition to being a student, I spent 24 years of my life as a teacher, helping people learn the Arabic language in different classes and schools. My education helped me immensely in developing my writing language by introducing me to a rich vocabulary that I now use in all of my sentences, whether they are lines of poetry or prose.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from your story?
A: I am thrilled that my book is now available to all English-speaking readers, and I hope every reader will find what they like.
For example, those who love adventure will find characters who went to the battlefronts looking for their brothers or their fathers. Those who are curious to learn about Iraqi families during wartime will see how Iraqi families suffered from the scourge of poverty and starvation.
And those who enjoy learning about other cultures will discover the rich customs and traditions of Iraqi society and how this society deals with the living and the dead. And most importantly, War and Me will serve as an important reminder to all of how wars and sieges affect ordinary people.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: In addition to being busy with online and in person poetry readings, I have also finished editing my new poetry book which I hope will be accepted for publication. I am also planning to write a novel based on real events that took place in Iraq, and I hope that novel will find a publisher soon, as well.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: In my creative life, I have explored many types of writing. I have written novels, literary criticism, short stories, plays for children and for adults, as well as adult and children’s poetry. But when I wrote the memoir, I found it to be one of the most difficult types of writing.
When you are writing these memories, you have to deal with the feelings that you tried so hard to hide or get rid of, and you also find yourself in situations that you don't like to remember. I believe that those who write memoirs are very brave. We as readers should respect their books, because these books touch upon deep truths in one way or another.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb